The JCP Brand Message is Missing Half The Point and Burning Time.
Everyone is watching the J.C.Penney rebranding effort. It’s easy, in a universe that demands instant gratification, to nay-say the prospect of success. Knowing that most executives, a lot of Boards and all Wall Street analysts have a strong aversion to watching sales and stock slide as these plans play out, it’s super-easy to predict Penney’s will abandon the strategy. How soon? Some bet as early as the ever-critical Christmas season.
Yet others remain confident in Penney’s. Morningstar recommends a buy and hold. Yikes.
JCP, as it wishes to be known, has made it pretty clear to their consumers they’re offering everyday values. Well and good, but it’s a difficult concept to sustain in a market trained to react to deep “discounts” supported by heavy event and brand advertising, such as Kohl’s.
Despite that, we think there’s an even more important element missing. What is the experience JCP selling at these great values? Is it the same old merchandise, just without coupons? Let’s put it another way. Suggest to a group of 13-year old girls that they go to Penney’s for back to school clothes. How about your college freshman – male or female? It’s no dice. As we tell the retailers we work for, customers want a relationship with the store, with the shopping experience itself and with the merchandise.
That’s where the new JCP is screwing up. They promise customers can “buy what you need” at great values, but customers need to get a taste of what the brand relationship is all about in the messaging. Target, Kohl’s and Macy’s do it and do it well. Even poor old Kmart developed a strong statement for their kid’s Back To School campaign this year.
Someone at the Huffington Post commented recently that JCP’s stores’ “frumpy customers want it to remain frumpy.” We guess JCP is aware that it's lacking style teeth. They recently added fashion celebrity Nina Garcia to the team. A knowledgeable regular on the hit TV show, Project Runway and fashion director at Marie Claire magazine, Garcia joined JCP as "resident style voice and fashion collection curator.” Unless she’s given a strong role there, we suspect it may be dollop of costly icing on a poorly baked cake.
Would we advise our clients to take a price strategy like JCP’s? Unlikely. Unless our client’s pockets are extremely deep, their ownership exceptionally patient (not a common characteristic) and their commitment iron-clad, we’d vote no to bucking the trend. Good or bad, the market still likes and responds to a sales event.
What’s more, spending a fortune launching a pricing strategy prior to getting its stores – or at least its merchandise mix, up to snuff – could be a disaster. Our clients are advised to have it all buttoned down and ready to go before the investment in communication begins.
Bottom line: altering attitude is a long, slow haul demanding huge investments, deep commitment and lots and lots of time.
So JCP can’t just talk about value. It needs to show its target market what it is all about. BTS is in full swing, the holidays are around the corner and nobody’s too sure of what’s going on. As nice as they are, sharp advertising, a new logo and a bunch of highly paid executives alone are not going to cut the mustard. We wish them luck.
What do you think? Are you on board with JCP’s new approach or would you have done something different?